By Camille Vitse
“Wake up Alex, you don’t want to be late for your first day!”
To be honest, I couldn’t really comprehend whether my mom or my dad yelled that. I was too tired. I had stayed up almost all night. I got up and rubbed my eyes, which made the whole room foggy. I walked to my closet and picked up the outfit I had carefully chosen the night before. I pulled the curtains back from the large windows so that the sun could brighten the room. I took a second to enjoy the beautiful September morning.
“Alex, stop daydreaming and come get breakfast!”
That time, I knew it was my mom.
I quickly slipped on the outfit and ran into the kitchen. Naturally Jenna, my best friend, was already waiting for me. Even though she didn’t live here, she always managed to be here before I was awake.
“You look really tired,” she commented.
“I know, I stayed up almost all night trying to find an outfit that still fits me,” I replied.
“We should get to school. We’re already late.”
I nodded and grabbed my bag as I walked out the door.
The first day of school went by super fast. I hugged Jenna goodbye and walked to the subway station. As I walked onto the platform, I noticed a girl that was in my math class. She was with some boys that I also recognized from our school. As I watched, I noticed they started to crowd around her and get up in her face. She was trying to push them away and was obviously very uncomfortable.
“Leave her alone!” I only slightly yelled, not wanting to make a scene and embarrass her even more. The boys all looked up and stared at me for a second.
Finally one of them said, “Let’s just go, she’s not worth it.”
They all nodded and walked away. I let go a deep sigh of relief.
“Are you okay?” I ask the girl who I knew as Elizabeth.
“I’m fine. You shouldn’t have done that, it was none of your business. Besides, I was handling it,” Elizabeth said as her cheeks got redder.
“Okay,” was all I said back.
I started to walk away when she said, “But thank you for helping me.”
I turned my head and smiled, but I was still really upset that boys from my school would disrespect her like that. Schools are supposed to teach you to do the opposite.
Over the next few days, I noticed how much of that stuff actually happens in my school and how it goes unnoticed. That’s what made me the most mad: the fact that people acted like it was normal when something was really wrong. People had to take notice of things like this, and if they weren’t going to do it themselves, I had to do it for them.
I stayed up almost all night again, making hundreds of pieces of paper with quotes from many different role models and people that spoke about racial and gender rights.
The next morning I searched for Jenna in the courtyard until I finally spotted her. I presented my idea and showed her the posters I had made the night before. To my surprise, she was really excited. She said she had experienced those types of things before as well. We got started the second we got inside. We must have put a poster in every part of our huge school. By the time it was lunch, people started to talk about our posters. Once the seventh period started, almost everyone was talking about the posters… I should have known that not everyone would like them.
At the end of the day the loudspeaker came on:
“Alex Parker and Jenna Twinkle, please come to my office immediately when your classes end!”
The whole class quickly turned their heads to look at Jenna and me.
Once we got out of class, we went straight to the principal’s office, as we were told to, and sat in the two seats in front of his desk.
“Do you girls know why you’re here?” he asked as he folded his hands.
“No sir,” I lied. There was a moment of silence.
“You’re here because, although those posters send an important message, I think you took it a bit too far. Multiple fights have been reported to me today, and all of them were over disagreements about your posters.”
Jenna and I looked at each other with surprised faces.
“Therefore, I have no choice but to punish you for your actions. You will have to take your posters down.”
“But Principal Johnson, that’s exactly my point! These are quotes about everyone’s rights. They are supposed to be part of what this school teaches. Yet every single day, people are doing the exact opposite!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me young lady, I’ve made up my mind, you will be puni — ”
“You want to punish me for bringing attention to these things?! I am doing the job that you are too lazy to get off your butt and do!” I knew I shouldn’t have said it, but not one bit of me regretted it.
“THAT IS ENOUGH! You will be suspended for the rest of the week! That is all. You are dismissed!”
We just sat there shocked, looking for words, until we decided it would just be better to leave.
On the train ride home, I searched my mind for what I was going to tell my mom. She would ground me for life if she knew what I said to the principal. After a while of thinking, I decided it would just be safer to not tell her at all. But I still couldn’t believe the principal would yell like that to his students, or that he could yell like that at all. Despite what Mr. Johnson thought, I wasn’t giving up that easily. That night I stayed up later than I ever have because my new plan was even better.
The next morning came and I had barely gotten any sleep. Dark circles had formed underneath my barely open eyes, and yet I wasn’t at all tired. I was about to do something that would bring attention to what needed to change. The second I walked out of my house, I called Jenna.
“Hey Jenna, I need your help with something. Can you meet me at the school?”
“Alex, did you already forget? We’re suspended, and I’m grounded.”
“I know, but I have a bigger and better idea than what we did yesterday.”
“Alex, you’re gonna get yourself expelled. I want to help, but don’t want to get expelled either.”
“So what if we get expelled? We’re bringing awareness to a problem that needs to be fixed.”
“Sorry Alex, but you’re on your own for this one.”
“Whatever, if you actually wanted to make a difference you would help me, but you obviously don’t. And never did.”
“Alex I — ”
But I had already hung up. I didn’t want to talk to her or see her right now — maybe for a while.
Once I had made it to the school, I snuck to the back of the building where I intended to start hanging up the posters. About two hours had passed, and I was almost finished covering the entire building. I was on the last poster when I saw the principal’s assistant walk past me. She must have been late to work. I quickly tried to hide, but it was too late. She had already noticed me and what I was working on. She ran inside and didn’t look back. I decided that I should just finish what I was doing before leaving. After all, there was only one poster left. I realized that I needed more tape to put the poster up so I reached in my bag, but I couldn’t find any tape. I looked and looked until I finally found it. Before I knew it, ten minutes had passed, but I was determined to finish the job. I quickly hung up the last poster and turned around to walk away, but it was too late. I watched as two police cars pulled up in front of me, their sirens blaring. Everything was in slow motion. The police officers got out of their cars and ran up to me. Each of them grabbed one of my arms and started to drag me to their cars. I turned my head and saw Jenna running up the block. She was unable to speak.
“PUT ME DOWN!” I screamed.
People began to gather around and videotape. I saw Principal Johnson on the corner speaking to another police officer and pointing his long finger at me. All I wanted to do was strangle him! I kicked and screamed, trying to break the grip of the officers, but I wasn’t strong enough.
“Arrested?! For vandalizing your own school?! You’re lucky they only put you in a holding cell!” my mom yelled at me when she picked me up from the police station. I didn’t feel lucky, not at all. I felt betrayed. By Jenna, by the principal, and most of all, by life itself.
For the rest of the week, neither my parents nor I said a word to each other. I hadn’t spoken to Jenna since our fight, and to be honest, I really missed her. Being my stubborn self, I wouldn’t admit that until she did.
Monday finally came. Trying to avoid awkward silence with my parents, I left for school before they woke up. As I approached the school yard, I noticed that Jenna was there as well. She must have gotten up early, and without my house, she had nowhere else to go. I turned around and tried to go back home, but she had already noticed me.
“Alex, please wait!” She sounded so desperate that I couldn’t just walk away. I turned around and looked at her. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. She must have been crying.
“Aww, Jenna, are you okay?” She was my best friend, I couldn’t just let her be sad like that. She burst into tears.
“I tried, I really tried to come help you. I should have done that in the first place!” she said as I embraced her in a soothing hug, trying to calm her down.
“I know. This is stupid. Why are we fighting?”
“I don’t know,” she said. There was a quick silence where we just looked at each other. We both burst out laughing in a joke no one but us could understand.
“I missed you so much!” she wailed.
“I missed you too!”
We hugged one more time before walking into school, our hands laced together.
The second I walked through the doors of the school, people started to crowd around me. They were all congratulating me and yelling my name in a chant.
“What?!?” I said, finally getting only one of them to speak.
“Principal Johnson was fired!” A girl said.
“What?! Why?” I asked.
“Because of what he did to you and because of all the things he let happen! They said that he should have made us aware of these things and that all this was his fault”
I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I got our principal fired! Jenna hugged me but I could barely hug her back, I wasn’t able to move.
“You did it Alex, you did it!”
The next few days went by in a blur. A bunch of people would just randomly come up and congratulate me. But getting the principal fired wasn’t what I was so shocked and happy about. I was so happy because for the first time, I was able to make a difference.
“Posters” was published in Like a Balloon that Wants to Pop, a collection of short stories, memoirs, poems, and graphic novels written by 6th graders at MS 88 in Park Slope, Brooklyn inspired by the pressing social justice issues of our day. Help support the unique voices of our young authors by sharing their stories and making a donation! To receive notices about opportunities for your child, sign up for our youth writing opportunities newsletter.